Points Bookshelf: “Bottle of Lies” by Katherine Eban

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. As part of our Points Bookshelf series, he reviews Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom (Ecco, 2019). 

Screenshot 2019-08-07 at 4.49.07 PMKatherine Eban previews Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom with shocking statistics on the state of pharmaceuticals: “Roughly 40 percent of our generic drugs are manufactured in India. A full 80 percent of the active ingredients in all our drugs, whether brand-name or generic, are made in India and China.” China is the sole source for many of America’s essential medicines, including those used in anesthesia and the treatment of cancer and HIV/AIDS. It is the world’s only source for antibiotics. One drug importer explained to her that “without products from overseas, not a single drug could be made.” 

Bottle of Lies’s popularity and positive press stems from Eban asking what appears, at first blush, to be a naïve set of questions: What are generic drugs? How are they made? Where are they made? And what are the consequences? If you surveyed the American people’s knowledge of what a generic drug is, they would probably say something to the effect of “generic drugs are the cheaper version of the name-brand.” “Patients” Eban writes, “tend to assume that their generic drugs are identical to brand-name drugs in part because they imagine a simple and amicable process: as a patent expires, the brand-name company turns over its recipe, and a generic company makes the same drug, but at a fraction of the cost.”

It doesn’t happen this way. Instead companies, “erect a fortress of patents around their drugs, sometimes patenting each manufacturing step—even the time-release mechanism, if there is one. At any point, they can tweak a drug “declare it new, to add years to their patents, a move known as ‘evergreening.’” Whatever generics hit the market, they arrived there “not with help from brand-name drug companies, but in spite of their efforts to stop them.”

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Video: Peter Hynd at Cannabis: Global Histories

Editor’s Note: Discussing the history he wrote about in Tuesday’s post, “From Calcutta in 1890 to Canada Today: Exercises in Cannabis Legalization,” Peter Hynd explores more on this topic in a video taken at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, from April 19-20, 2018. Video by Morgan Scott, Breathe Images. Enjoy!

From Calcutta in 1890 to Canada Today: Exercises in Cannabis Legalization

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Peter Hynd, a PhD candidate in history at McGill University in Quebec, based on the paper he presented at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 19-20, 2018. In it, he explores how Calcutta legalized the sale of cannabis in the 19th century, and shows how the Indian government sought to implement legalization in the most effective (and profitable) way. Enjoy!

Imagine strolling up to a licensed cannabis shop and purchasing a few grams of the finest Government stamped and sealed ganja, no questions asked.

In your mind, where are you? Denver, Colorado in 2015? Montreal, Quebec, later this year?

How about Calcutta in 1890?

Although probably not the time or place you associate with government licensed cannabis shops, during the second half of the nineteenth century the colonial government of Bengal (modern day Bangladesh and West Bengal, India) regulated and taxed the sale of cannabis drugs in a manner that appears remarkably similar to many present day models and proposals.

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Peter Hynd presents his work at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 19, 2018. Photo by Morgan Scott, Breathe Images

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